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Paycheck protection or paycheck deception? Missouri House passes bill on public employee union fees

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Members of public employee unions would have to provide written consent each year to have union fees deducted from paychecks, according to legislation passed by the Missouri House Thursday.

"This is historic," said state Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Charleston and the bill's sponsor. "I think it's great labor reform. ... It makes the union leader provide a service to the worker." Because people would have to affirm the deduction, the legislation has been called the paycheck protection act.

A U.S. Supreme Court case on the issue of mandatory union fees is igniting national debate on the topic. The main plaintiff of the case, Rebecca Friedrich, a teacher in California, is suing the California Teaching Association after not being able to opt out of union-related fees related to political lobbying.

Yearly membership fees for the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), in contrast, don't contribute to any political or legislative activities of the organization.

“All contributions to the MSTA PAC are voluntary and not automatically deducted from payroll or member dues,” said Krisa Meyer, political action manager for MSTA.

If the Supreme Court sides with Friedrich, union members would have to opt in for union dues. The Los Angeles Times previously reported that since Wisconsin adopted a similar law, the state has seen a 50 percent decline in membership for the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

But Meyer isn’t concerned about the Supreme Court case. She says it’s unlikely that MSTA membership will decline because Missouri's HB 1891 would add just an extra form for union members each year.

"MSTA membership has grown every year for the past four years," said Meyer. "We don't anticipate that changing."

Forty-seven representatives voted in opposition to the bill. Rep. Bill Otto, D-Maryland Heights was one of them. He emphasized his experience as a member of the state’s air traffic controllers union. He said this bill is a form of deception to weaken the working class.

“This is an attack on workers," said Otto. "It’s an absolute attack on teachers. I believe it’s an attack on organized labor in this country, in this state. And I don’t think it’s what we want to put out there. … I don’t understand it.” 

Supporters say union politics should not be imposed on all state workers. Rep. Delus Johnson, R-St. Joseph, says he’s one of the few members of the chamber who has served in the public sector union. Before becoming a state representative, Johnson was captain of the St. Joseph Fire Department.

“Every night on TV I would watch my union boss on TV, and he’d say, the firefighters support this candidate, and he’d say the firefighters support that candidate, and they’d say the firefighters support this candidate,” said Johnson. “And the firefighters, Mr. Speaker, did not support those candidates. It was wrong, and he trampled upon my freedom of speech over and over and over again.”

The bill passed in the House with a veto-proof majority, 110-47. It has not yet been scheduled on the Senate calendar. 

Mallory Daily is an intern for the state capitol bureau of St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports

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